Memorial of Verdun
Text: Régis Rocca  -  Pictures: Régis Rocca & Marlène Poppi - ©SBAP 2012 

One hour's drive East of Los Angeles lies a Warbird Mecca, a place « where History flies » : Chino Planes of Fame !
The place was Ed Malonzy's creation in 1957, with a dozen airplanes displayed near the Rocky Mountains. Half a century later, the collection hosts 150 aircraft, most of them in flying condition !

The Museum/workshop/airbase’s lifeblood is an army of volunteers, passionate about and devoted to the cause. Each year dozens of events and meets keep the site and the aircraft alive.
The « Museum » part really impresses by the quality and diversity of the display. Distributed over several halls, you will find a replica of a USS Enterprise hangar, with its shipborne fighters as well as numerous items in display cabinets. You'd think you were on board the carrier ! You'll then find statistics about global aviation over the years : WW1, WW2, the Cold War... Moving from one hall to the next you'll see the Wright brother's first flight and today's most powerful jets.
Chino has a rich collection pertaining to Imperial Japan's WW2 aviation, with an astonishing re-creation of an aircraft crash site in the jungle !

To his or her greatest delight the visitor will discover a section dedicated to the Schneider Trophy with American, French and Italian aircraft. There is also a display devoted to Jimmy Doolittle, his R3C-2 Curtiss and of course his famous Gee Bee n°11, winner of the 1932 Thompson race.
Some very rare aircraft indeed, seldom to be seen in European Museums. The Museum also has its « invisible » side : the restoration workshops where volunteers are active all year round to restore many planes to flying condition. A real labor of love, considering the condition of some of the aircraft when they arrive. Their work certainly deserves our respect as it is of major importance and nothing short of phenomenal... On display on the walls are also the « Wings of Honor », lists of patrons and aviation enthusiasts, the heroes and the anonymous who keep this place alive shown side by side. Part of the collection is also dedicated to Pylon Races, such as the Reno National Air races. And justly so because this institution is in part managed by the Hinton family, which includes many great racers, in particular Steve Hinton, six times Reno Races winner  in the 70's and 80’s and the only pilot ever to win four races in a row. His son, Steve Hinton Jr, won at Reno in 2009, aged 22, which makes him the youngest ever winner of this event. Steve is also a survivor : during the 1979 event his P51 Mustang « Red Baron » crashed and despite the impact and the ensuing fire... he is still here to tell us about it !
We were also able to see Sea Fury n°232, belonging to the Lewis stables, being prepared for the 2012 Reno National Air Races. A real racing thoroughbred which just oozes power.
(Sea Fury n°232 was to finish second overall in the « Unlimited » category behind... Steve Hinton Jr in his P51 n° 7, a result enabling him to equal his father's consecutive victories tally).
A hangar is also dedicated to 475th Squadron with a spotless and shiny P38 Lightning (it is also in flying condition) among other mementoes from this unit.

Finally, as is often the case in the USA, there is a bone yard which would leave any collector open-mouthed. There are aircraft of all descriptions, all nationalities and all eras. Some are in (relative) good condition, others are rather a collection of spare parts. There is even a Belgian F104 Starfighter !

T
his visit would not have been complete without a flight aboard that most mythical of all American fighters of the 1939-1945 era : the P-51 Mustang. It is with considerable respect and humility that yours truly boarded a 1944 P-51, still with  an original Merlin engine ; it has been converted into a two-seater. The flight above the Chino desert was to last half an hour. My hosts had a surprise in store for me : this was to be a formation flight with a second Mustang from the Chino collection ! After some aerobatics up to 3 positive Gs, the flight ended with a « wing in wing » formation. The flight itself was very smooth, executed with great finesse. The plane is a delight, both on tarmac and in the air, vibrations are almost non-existent and the feeling of power and torque is overwhelming.
A great many thanks to Matt
Nightingale, my pilot for his kindness and professionalism.
You really have to experience Chino at least once in your lifetime, just like Duxford and some other places.
As for me, a P38 flight is on the horizon, any year now !

 

The museum...
   
From the beginning...  
   
  ...to the stars
   
The P-26 "Peashooter" in details
   
   
   

The wall of donators, anonymous and celebrities toegether

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
The races display: Schneider cup, Reno races and Bendix trophy with the Jimmy Doolitle planes
   
   
   
   
   
The P-38 hangar  
   
   
   
   
   
The USS Enterprise display with many historic US Navy planes  
   
USS  ENTERPRISE
   
   
   
   
   
   
Work in progress...
   
The September Fury n°232 in preparation just 15 days before the national race of Reno with steve Hinton Sr working on the propeller
   
   
   
The "Red Baron" n°5 from Steve Hinton Sr Remaining parts after the crash
   
   
   
Graveyard...
   
  Old metal under a warm sun
   
   
   

A belgian tourist in Chino...

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
Warbird taste...
   The must
   
   
The turn around and pre-flight of my bird  
   
   
   
   
   
Over the desert, two "Mustang" for an historic flight  
   
   
   
   
   
Thanks Matt for this flight! The man and the beast... ...unforgettable!
   

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